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Interview By Ville Krannila / June 2012
Aiming for the authentic look and sound of Judas Priest, the mighty Priest Unleashed pays worthy tribute to the Metal Gods. Ville checked out the story behind this wild bunch of american steel:
First off, why did you start a Priest tribute band and what does the music of Judas Priest mean to you?
Eric Sands (Tipton): We are all lifelong Judas Priest fans and tribute bands are very popular right now. The climate is perfect for acting out our childhood dreams. To me, Judas Priest songs are REAL Heavy Metal. They helped to forge the blue print for the genre along with bands like Sabbath and Zeppelin. Playing it instantly brings out my inner teenager and keeps me young. I used to cut school to play guitar to these songs!
Eddie Smith (Hill): Priest was always a band I wanted to cover when I was a teenager. Being a fairly accomplished bassist at a young age, it was hard for me to find musicians who could actually play Priest. The funny part of the story was when I was approached to do the tribute; I was shopping in a small town grocery store when I received a call asking if I was interested in doing a Priest tribute. Of course, I said yes. This was at approx. 11:00 a.m. and by 1:00 p.m. I was firing up “Victim of Changes” and have been Eddie Ian Hill ever since.
Jerry Hermanson (K.K.): Nobody was doing it in the southeast and there is such a big catalog to pick from. They to me are really the pioneers of true Heavy Metal.
How long have you guys been Priest fans, how did it all begin?
Eric: I’ve been a huge fan since the mid 70’s when I was first learning guitar. My best friend in Jr. High School played “Sad Wings of Destiny” for me and I was instantly hooked. Priest was perhaps my strongest influence and inspiration to play.
Mike Hibbs (Halford): In the 80’s “British Steel” kicked my ass. Then I went back through their catalog and was blown away by “Unleashed in the East.”
Eddie: Crank the “way-back knob” for me to 1978 when I was turned on to “Sad Wings of Destiny” and to this day this is still my favorite Priest album. I’m hoping if all the planets line up that we can perform this great album from start to finish.
Jerry: I first heard “Hell Bent For Leather” in 1979 from an older cousin. I went to buy it and saw the live album and got that too.
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Of course singing the songs originally done by the Metal God himself isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Do you practice the metal screams or do any vocal training?
Mike: I had a college course and some local training but nothing formal. My ability to imitate the screams and highs of Rob was countless hours of singing along to the records and “Unleashed in the East” in particular. I do rehearse the material before shows and I have a specific order I sing the songs in to warm my voice up.
How much practice in general it takes to make a successful tribute act?
Eric: I would say a heavy practice schedule is needed for most tribute bands to “become” the band they are dedicated to. For us it was different. We all grew up playing these songs. They are part of who we are as individuals. A normal guitarist audition is based around 5 or 6 songs. I walked in to audition and we ran through 20 songs with very few mistakes. We are very passionate about Priest music and it shows.
Mike: We are extremely tight because we are very conscious of the material and make the extra effort.
Eddie: Having known the songs for years most of them have come natural to me. I spent a lot of my early years after school playing Priest songs.
Jerry: Hours and hours and hours.
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What “gear” are the players currently using?
Eric: We make an effort to recreate the early Judas Priest look and sound, down to their classic period (“Unleashed in the East”) gear as much as possible. Jerry and I play Gibson Flying V and SG guitars, and for amps it’s important to get an authentic early Priest vintage British tone, so we use Orange Thunderverb heads with PPC412 cabs and Vintage Marshall JCM800 and 900 heads with vintage 1960 cabs. We each use a smattering of Boss and other pedals as well. I just picked up a VOX Time Machine from Murphy’s Music in Melville NY, which nails the delay Glenn used on “Victim of Changes” and “Diamonds and Rust”. I also use a Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster which is my secret weapon. Amazing pedal.
Eddie: I currently play a 1973 Fender P-Bass with an SVT-4 Pro Ampeg head a GK 4-12 and a single 15.
Scott Mowry (Travis): I play TAMA drums and Paiste Cymbals.
You put in effort to replicate Priest’s stage look and clothes from 1980’s. How much work did that take?
Eric: Most of the guys were lucky and found their leather garb at Goodwill and second hand shops. Add some studs and they’re rockin’. Finding Glenn’s red vinyl pants took me on journey to fetish stores! Good thing my wife didn’t come across my Google searches. She would’ve thought I was up to something!
Mike: I did some sewing and studding on both the pants and vest to get that 80’s look but finding the write hat is still on ongoing search.
Jerry: Hours and hours of shopping. I am on my 3rd outfit. Our look is always evolving as we each find new bits and pieces to add. I swear Eric and I have had a bazillion wigs between the two of us!
Eddie: It would not be Priest without leather and chains. Not being able to grow a good beard, I am in search of the perfect hair beard combo that will mimic Ian Hill so stay tuned.
What’s the hardest Priest song to play live? Which one took most work to get done?
Eddie: For me,”Tyrant” for sure. So many different parts in this song.
Eric: “Tyrant” was the toughest to get down so far. There are tempo changes and parts that are felt more so than counted. Glenn has a very unique approach to lead guitar as well. He’s a very angular player, so it’s difficult to recreate his solos. Some melodic solos like in “The Ripper” have to be recreated note for note. Others, like “Beyond the Realms of Death”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and “Delivering the Goods”, are a little more open and allow me to do my own thing, while at the same time maintaining the vibe.
Jerry: “Victim of Changes.”
You guys also play some rare songs Priest themselves haven’t played at all or for a very long time, like “Delivering The Goods.” Judging by the YouTube clips people are really into these rarities, am I right?
Eric: Yes, you’re right! We focus on classic Priest songs: “Delivering the Goods,” “Green Manalishi,” “The Ripper,” “Electric Eye” and others. These songs are special and really bring people back to their youth and good times.
Mike: Oh yes that’s always a crowd favorite!
Eddie: “Delivering the Goods” is such a rocking song. Unlike a lot of the heavier songs, it has that heavy rock and roll/blues sound to it. Really shows how diverse Priest really is.
Jerry: Absolutely. There is an awesome hardcore crowd that freaks when we pull out deep stuff like “Solar Angels”.
If you could add any song to the Priest Unleashed set, which would it be?
Eric: I’d really like to play “Dissident Aggressor”. Amazing song! We plan on adding “Starbreaker” as well. Yes, they are deep cuts, but hard core fans really appreciate it.
Mike: “The Sentinel” or “Jawbreaker.”
Eddie: “Sinner” and “Exciter” are coming. I would love to do “Dreamer Deceiver” and blend it right into “Island of Domination”.
Jerry: “Exciter” (which we are working on).
Have you recorded any Priest songs in studio? If not, do you have plans to maybe cut some demo versions of Priest classics?
Eric: We record every rehearsal, but we’re planning to go into the studio to record a proper demo. In this age of YouTube, Facebook and viral marketing, it seems all a band really needs is a good live performance video.
Eddie: We have a high quality home studio and are mixing several songs as we speak so stay tuned to our Reverb nation page.
Jerry: Yes and soon.
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What is the most memorable gig that you’ve played and what made it great?
Eric: Wild Bills in Duluth GA is the biggest club in the country. Their stage and lighting is something Priest would tour with. That’s a fun place to play but the most memorable gigs are that way because of the fans. The audience is always more important than the venue.
Eddie: I would personally have to say the last show we played at Danny’s Rock-n-Roll in Kennesaw, Georgia. The bar was old school, hot, humid, and had that vintage cigarette smoke smell that just took me back to the 80s and reminded me of really good times.
Jerry: So far, I think our 2nd show at The Local might be our best to date but they all just seem to get tighter as we go.
Are there any interesting “Priest Unleashed on the road” stories to tell?
Eddie: Actually, the very first show we played there wasn’t a green room. We asked where we could change into our leathers and the club manager lead us to the kitchen. I changed next to a big tub of chicken wings.
Jerry: Going through NE Alabama after those tornadoes came through last summer was a trip. I had never seen anything like that before in my life.
Eric: What happens on the road stays on the road.
Have you ever seen other Priest tributes? What sets Priest Unleashed apart from other JP tribute bands?
Eric: I’ve only seen videos online, but from what I can tell, most Priest tributes don’t try to nail the details. We wear wigs to get the hair right, play the same instruments, get the chops, tone, aggression and power as accurate as possible.
Eddie: I think trying to be as close to Priest as possible. The visual stage image and playing the songs like they sound on the album. Too many bands try to add their own flavour to the music. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Haven’t seen another Priest tribute live as of yet.
Jerry: There is one in the UK that is good. I would love to meet some of these other guys. You can just tell we are on the same page.
Any final words for the readers of Steel Mill?
Jerry: Fall to your knees, and repent if you please!
Eric: Well, it’s a real honour to be featured on your website! Thanks for doing everything you do, helping all of us bands and keeping Heavy Metal alive and well! Please visit us at…
Eddie: Thank you for taking time to check out our Facebook page and Reverb Nation site. We are working on a new website and should have that up soon. Thanx, Eddie Ian Hill.
Thank You! Keep playing and keep bringing PRIEST fans an excellent tribute!
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